When the draw for the quarter-finals was made, Arsenal fans were delighted with the home draw. Since then, an uneasy feeling has swept over them.
The Premier League title had long gone but the Gunners are now outside of the top four while they suffered complete humiliation at the hands of Bayern Munich. Supporter protesting against the manager and a squad fighting with each other, as results go from bad to worse. Arsenal is a club in disarray.
Dare Lincoln City dream of the upset? Why not? They won at Turf Moor when nobody gave them a chance of glory. This is a bigger task but there are already doubts that the Emirates will be full. The away section certainly will; Lincoln have sold their 9,500 seats for the tie.
It’s a fascinating tie in prospect. Even though Arsenal are odds-on favourites, there is a small doubt. If Lincoln keep the scores level for a long while, can that doubt become larger?
For an hour on Tuesday night, Arsenal were back to form. They hassled and harried Bayern Munich, taking a deserved lead through Theo Walcott’s thunderous drive. It could – and should – have been two with Olivier Giroud missing a gilt-edged chance while the Gunners were also denied a stonewall penalty.
Then it went pear-shaped. Laurent Koscielny was sent off, Bayern equalised and then scored another four. In Arsene Wenger’s words, his players threw in the towel. It’s drawn the focus onto the Frenchman’s reign. A growing number of supporters believe it is time for a change and that must be in the players’ minds.
Can Wenger inspire his troops to victory? Normally, he would play his fringe players for this match but given the circumstances will anything less than the strongest XI will take the field?
The fringe players may feel hard done by if Wenger doesn’t use them. A number of the squad are coming close to the end of their contracts, to the point where Arsenal must decide to keep or sell them. Lucas Perez, one of the club’s experienced strikers, is already heavily linked with a move to Sevilla in the summer.
Danny Welbeck, Mesut Ozil and Alex Iwobi all missed the midweek drubbing so seem likely to play while Hector Bellerin and Francis Coquelin will be in midfield. The defence may see Per Mertesacker return to the starting line-up as the German is now fully fit.
Arsenal have never lost to a non-league side in a competitive match and are not expected to this weekend.
The chinks in Arsenal’s season must be filling Lincoln’s management team, players and supporters with hope that the impossible dream is achievable.
Sean Raggett’s late goal at Turf Moor gave the Imps their biggest scalp so far in the competition but they have already accounted for Brighton and Hove Albion and Ipswich Town, in a cup run which began with a win in the fourth qualifying round over Guiseley.
Lincoln are currently top of the National League, four points clear of Forest Green Rovers with thirteen games remaining. Returning to the Football League remains the priority for Danny Cowley, the City manager, but why not enjoy the cup run while it lasts.
They won’t be short of support at the Emirates and may fancy their chances of sneaking a draw if Arsenal field a mix of youth and experience. Notably, Brighton came unstuck with a much-changed line-up at Sincil Bank.
Arsenal scouts recently tried to watch the match at North Ferriby but weren’t able to get into the ground as the ‘Sold Out’ signs went up. It shows the respect which the north London side are giving their opponents, treating this as they would any other fixture.
With nothing to lose, Lincoln are expected to hassle and harry Arsenal from the start. If the players repeat their performance at Burnley – and get some ‘Magic of the Cup’ fairy dust sprinkled on them – who knows how this one will turn out!
FORM (Last six games)
Arsenal - LWLWLL
Lincoln City - WWWDDW
- Arsenal have won 19 of their last 20 FA Cup ties.
- 9 of Arsenal’s last 10 games featured +2.5 goals.
- 6 of Arsenal’s last 10 games featured +3.5 goals.
- 12 of Arsenal’s last 18 FA Cup ties featured +2.5 goals.
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CURRENT MATCH ODDS (BEST PRICED ODDS)
HEAD TO HEAD
The two clubs haven’t met since 1915 when the Gunners were known as Woolwich Arsenal and had moved to Highbury two years previously.
As hard as you try, making a case for Lincoln to win is almost impossible. If Arsenal approach the game professionally, they should win this game comfortably. Then again, if they had been professional against Bayern Munich…
For much of the afternoon, Lincoln will be chasing shadows in much the same way that Sutton United did in the last round. That was Arsenal’s template for victory, quick movement off the ball and in the familiar surroundings of the Emirates Stadium, there is no excuse for them not to win handsomely.
But the FA Cup enjoyed a resurgence in popularity with the public’s interest piqued by Lincoln and Sutton’s exploits. The fantasy of a non-league team reaching Wembley is something everyone in the footballing world clings on to, except Arsenal supporters.